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The hidden cost of Facebook's messaging system

It's happy to sell your privacy
Fri Nov 26 2010, 16:16

AS THE DUST SETTLES on Facebook's entrance as a would be big hitter in the world of electronic communications, the reactions to its plans render a stark image of the power of capitalism and conformity over privacy.

Prior to Facebook's announcement, the news was all about the social network's 'Gmail killer'. Following the announcement, in which Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stressed repeatedly that his firm's system won't be just email, but rather a system that will offer users a way to contact others by using names as identifiers, the blind acceptance that all this is in some way a good thing was shocking.

On the surface what Zuckerberg outlined sounds great, a single place for communication, a simple identifier that you should already know, and of course everyone is already on Facebook - well, 500 million of us. But step away from the marketeer's view of an effortless, connected, whitewashed utopia and it really doesn't take long to realise why Facebook is going to so much effort to get into the messaging business, and that realisation paints a horrible picture of greed and the public acting as a large mass of 'yes men' and docile consumers.

The perceived value of Facebook comes not from its website and to a great extent not even the goodwill of its brand name but rather the 'social graph' it has managed to generate with years of data. At first the graph was pretty simple. It merely showed personal connections, then led to interests, homing in on singular things that users 'like' and finally combining the whole web of interconnections with sign-in services, where users announce their location to the world.

Looking through the progression of Facebook's so-called 'features', there is a clear move towards enriching that valuable social graph with real time information. Facebook friends are tenuous relationships that might or might not be correlated with real world interactions.

How many interests can someone indulge at once? For Facebook and its advertisers, what's important is being able to pinpoint what interest, hobby or activity the user is taking part in at a particular location and at a particular time. But where does Facebook's messaging vision fit into all of this?


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